"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 24th Jan 2022

Isolation Tips
Poland to shorten COVID-19 quarantine to 7 days, says PM
Poland will shorten the COVID-19 quarantine period to seven days and will introduce free tests in pharmacies from Jan. 27, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday, after the country reported a record number of infections.
A divided nation: Western Australia stays shut as COVID deaths mount in east
Australia will remain a divided nation, with the vast mining state of Western Australia cancelling plans to reopen its borders on Feb. 5, citing health risks from a surge in the Omicron COVID-19 variant in eastern states. The country reported 86 deaths from the virus on Friday, figures from the state and territory jurisdictions that have reported so far showed, its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic. Australia's most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), reported 46 deaths of patients with COVID-19, also its worst day, including one infant, while Victoria state saw 20 deaths.
Ireland set to rapidly drop almost all COVID-19 restrictions
Ireland is to scrap almost all its COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday after coming though the storm of the Omicron variant that led to a massive surge in infections, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in a national address. Ireland had the second highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in Europe just last week but also one of the continent's highest uptake of booster vaccines, which has helped keep the number of seriously ill people well below the previous peak.
Kiribati goes into first lockdown after Covid flight cases
The remote island nation of Kiribati has gone into lockdown after passengers on the first international flight in 10 months tested positive for Covid. Under the new measures, people have been told to stay at home and social gatherings are banned. Some 36 people on the flight from Fiji have tested positive. Four people have caught the virus from community transmission. Until last week, Kiribati had recorded just two Covid cases. Kiribati is one of the most isolated islands in the world. It is some 4,800km (2,980 miles) from its nearest continent, Australia.
Hygiene Helpers
Beijing introduces more COVID measures as cases mount before Olympics
Beijing's city government on Sunday introduced new measures to contain a recent outbreak of COVID-19, as China's capital continued to report new local cases of the virus less than two weeks before it hosts the Winter Olympic Games. Nine locally transmitted cases were found in Beijing on Jan. 22, the National Health Commission said on Sunday, of which six were in the city's Fengtai district. Fengtai will organise nucleic acid tests for COVID-19 for all of its residents on Sunday, district health authorities said.
Australia to Allow Overseas Arrivals With Rapid Antigen Test
Australia will allow international air travelers to enter the country if they provide results from a rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours of departure. A RAT must be undertaken by or under the supervision of a medical practitioner that includes pharmacists or trained personnel at an authorized airport testing station, the Ministry of Health said on its website Saturday in Sydney. The change is effective from 1 a.m. Sunday. Until now any incoming traveler needed to provide a negative PCR test within three days of departure, creating the risk a person may get infected after the test and before embarking. In addition, the global spread of omicron has dramatically increased demand for PCR testing which has impacted access for those wanting pre-departure certification.
Covid: NHS in push to vaccinate the final four million
More than four million adults in the UK have not yet had a first Covid jab and 16 million have not had their booster. This winter, NHS vaccine teams have been out on the streets trying to win over those hard-to-reach groups who might have struggled to access health services in the past. Carole Phillips, an NHS clinical director in Portsmouth, is best described as a straight talker. A former army medic who served in Afghanistan, she is now running outreach programmes in the city - trying to get the Covid vaccine to the most vulnerable. "In Portsmouth, we have still got a large percentage of the population - 20% - who haven't had their first jab," she says. "We have to reach out to these people, regardless of their lifestyle, to protect all of us in the end."
France's Consitutional Council approves Macron's vaccine pass
France's Constitutional Council on Friday approved - with conditions - the country's new COVID-19 vaccine pass, which will require people aged 16 and above to show proof of vaccination to enter public places like bars, restaurants and cinemas. The new pass is part of President Emmanuel Macron's drive to make life difficult enough for the small minority of unvaccinated people that they are compelled to get COVID shots. The Council's ruling paves the way for the vaccine pass to take effect on Jan. 24, replacing a health pass that showed proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or past infection.
Community Activities
Back in court - UK hospitality groups take on insurers over lockdown losses
Some of the world's biggest insurers are bracing as a second wave of multi-million pound lawsuits, brought by struggling British pubs, restaurants and bakery chains over lockdown losses, starts hitting London's courts next week. Zurich, MS Amlin, Liberty Mutual, Allianz and AXA are among those due in court one year after Britain's Supreme Court ruled that many insurers had been wrong to deny thousands of companies, battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, business interruption payouts. Insurers have since paid out 1.3 billion pounds ($1.8 billion), according to the Financial Conduct Authority. But the ruling did not cover all policy wordings and, where it deemed claims valid, some companies are now disputing payout levels.
Rioters fight Brussels police, smash headquarters of EU foreign service
Protests in Brussels against coronavirus restrictions spiralled into violence on Sunday as protesters clashed with police officers and vandalized the offices of the European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic arm. In one of the largest demonstrations against COVID-19 measures in the city, an estimated 50,000 people poured onto the streets, including groups traveling from outside Belgium, according to a police spokesperson. The demonstration was organized by the EU-wide network Europeans United for Freedom and other groups that oppose health restrictions. Police used teargas and water cannons to clear the Cinquantenaire park near the EU institutions after groups of protesters threw objects at officers and charged at them. Live footage showed protesters at street level hurling metal fences and a burning dustbin at policemen below them in the entrance to a metro station. An escalator was later shown burning.
Foreign Executives in Isolated Hong Kong Head for Exit, Sick of Zero-Covid Curbs
Stringent rules to try to keep Hong Kong free of Covid-19 are driving away more foreign executives, chipping away at the city’s decades-old status as one of the world’s top business hubs. Flight bans, lengthy quarantine stays for arrivals and repeated school closures are pushing more people to a breaking point as the pandemic enters its third year and the city clings to a zero-Covid strategy abandoned by nearly all countries save for China. A growing outbreak at a public housing estate has prompted the government to lock down buildings and send more people into quarantine. Executives complain the travel restrictions have prevented them from keeping tabs on operations in other countries or visiting business partners and potential clients, even in mainland China. Meanwhile, there is the ever-present risk of being sent to quarantine if they happen to cross paths with a Covid-19 sufferer in Hong Kong just by visiting a pet store or eating lunch out.
New Zealand Urges Business to Be Ready for Omicron Disruption
New Zealand’s government is warning businesses to be prepared for labor shortages and supply disruptions as omicron takes hold in the community. Finance Minister Grant Robertson has urged companies to ensure business continuity plans are in place and pledged government support, but warned that the impact of the variant could be severe. Modeling showed that in a scenario of 25,000 daily cases there could be 350,000 workers a day self-isolating, he said. “What we see from overseas is the supply side of the economy is where the big impacts have been,” Robertson told reporters Sunday in Wellington. “We’re working very hard to make sure we don’t see disruption but inevitably there will be some.”
Clashes erupt again over COVID curbs on French island of Guadeloupe
One police officer was injured and police faced gunfire during a night of civil unrest over COVID-19 restrictions in Guadeloupe, a French overseas territory in the Caribbean, the island's local authority said on Friday. Shops were vandalised and there were attempted robberies during the unrest, focused on Guadeloupe's largest urban centre, Pointe-a-Pitre, the authority said. Police moved in at dawn to clear blockades set up by protesters.
Anti-vaccine movement's DC rally comes amid covid successes
As anti-vaccine activists from across the country prepare to gather on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, they are hoping their rally will mark a once-fringe movement’s arrival as a lasting force in American society. That hope, some public health experts fear, is justified. Almost two years into the coronavirus pandemic, the movement to challenge vaccines’ safety — and reject vaccine mandates — has never been stronger. An ideology whose most notable adherents were once religious fundamentalists and minor celebrities is now firmly entrenched among tens of millions of Americans.
Hong Kong warns people to stop trying to prevent COVID hamster cull
Hong Kong police will deal with pet lovers who try to stop people giving up their hamsters to be put down, or who offer to care for abandoned hamsters, authorities said, after they ordered a cull of the cuddly rodents to curb the coronavirus. On Tuesday, officials ordered the killing of about 2,000 hamsters from dozens of pet shops after tracing a coronavirus outbreak to a worker at a shop, where 11 hamsters later tested positive for COVID-19. Thousands of people have offered to adopt unwanted hamsters amid a public outcry against the government and its pandemic advisers, which the office of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam called irrational.
US conservatives spreading anti-vax misinformation to unvaccinated Uganda
US Christian legal organisation Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Texas-based libertarian think tank the Brownstone Institute are among the organisations backing Uganda’s ‘End Lockdown Now’ campaign. The Brownstone Institute’s founder told Ugandans at an online event: “There’s no real case for getting a vaccine if you’ve had natural immunity. It doesn’t make any sense.” End Lockdown Now has platformed anti-vax, anti-mask, anti-lockdown and pandemic-denying arguments, with journalists and scientists from Europe and Australia among those spreading misinformation to Ugandans at the group’s online events. One such event was hosted by ADF. Separately, ADF has also involved itself in three legal challenges opposing lockdown measures in Uganda.
Working Remotely
Companies adopt flexible work approaches as they plan for the future of work
The traditional idea of going to the office five days a week or working 9 to 5 may be dying. Some companies are making room for more creative and flexible approaches to getting workers to do their jobs. Zoom, which many workplaces and workers relied on during the pandemic, is starting to allow its more than 6,000 workers to choose whether to work in the office, work remotely, or go hybrid, as in working remotely a certain number of days per week or month at their choosing. These approaches come as companies rethink workplace policies amid the fast spread of the omicron variant and the “Great Resignation,” during which employers are finding it more difficult to retain talent.
Working from home: how it changed us forever
Though England has ended its work-from-home guidance, this time, surely, for good, we won’t forget what we learned, the new ways of communicating, the particular realisations about our own mangled productivity, the importance of switching off when the work day ends. But nor will we forget what we missed about office culture, and what we appreciate afresh – the thrill of really good gossip, the unlikely community there, the change that happens when you leave the house. As many British office spaces remain vacant, it is projected that one in 10 will no longer be required by 2027, which suggests that while the grand work revolution is yet to emerge, a smaller shift, allowing a flake of flexibility, has taken place.
Call for remote work to continue as Ireland logs 8,126 Covid cases
Ireland has logged a further 8,126 cases of Covid-19, amid a call from unions for remote and hybrid working to continue as tomorrow marks the beginning of a return to the office. Head of communications with Forsa, Bernard Harbour, said employers should not ignore the benefits of hybrid working.
Virtual Classrooms
How teachers in training are learning to make remote school work
Teachers in training are learning how to work differently, now that it looks like remote classrooms will be sticking around for a while. COVID-19 has forced people in many fields to adopt new technology. Tess Miller, the interim dean at UPEI's faculty of education, says the next generation of teachers needs to have the skills to be effective both in the classroom and online. And those learning to be teachers now — remotely learning, themselves — will benefit from the experience in the future.
Public Policies
Companies Face Patchwork of Covid-19 Rules After Supreme Court Ruling
Companies will have to fend for themselves—and grapple with varied state and local requirements—following the high court’s decision to overturn the Biden administration’s mandate for large employers
EU health ministers seek common line over fourth COVID vaccine dose
European Union health ministers were told on Friday to prepare to deploy a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines as soon as data showed it was needed, as the bloc faces a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The EU drugs regulator said this week it would be reasonable to give a fourth dose to people with severely weakened immune systems, but more evidence was needed. "If we see data which is conclusive on whether a fourth dose is needed, we need to be ready to act," EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told EU ministers in a video conference, her speaking points showed.
Japan approves Pfizer COVID vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 -
Japan’s health ministry has authorised the use of Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children aged between five and 11. The vaccine, Comirnaty, is claimed to be the first in Japan to be approved for use in this age group. Once the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare grants special approval, Japan will join the UK and US in efforts to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in children. Until now, the mRNA vaccine has only been available to individuals over the age of 12 in the country. However, with this approval, approximately seven million children will be eligible to receive a dose of the vaccine. According to ministry officials, inoculations could begin as early as March once specific details of the roll-out are finalised.
Coronavirus vaccine fines: Experts urge caution as Austria and other governments plan to fine the unvaccinated
More governments are offering people a stark choice: Get vaccinated or pay up. Austria’s lower house of parliament on Thursday approved a coronavirus vaccine mandate for all adults starting Feb. 1, with violators facing as much as $4,000 in fines. In Greece, starting this week, people older than 60 who decline the vaccine can be fined $113 per month. Italians who are older than 50 must also get vaccinated or face fines and suspensions from work, beginning next month. In Canada, meanwhile, the hard-hit province of Quebec said last week that it was considering a plan to impose a “significant” financial penalty on adults without at least a first dose of coronavirus vaccine.
Singapore approves COVID-19 vaccine boosters for age 12-17s
Singapore will extend its COVID-19 booster vaccination programme to adolescents aged 12 to 17 years from next month, its health ministry said on Friday. Singapore is among the first few countries to recommend boosters for that age group, following Germany, the United States, Israel and Hungary.
WHO recommends reduced dose Pfizer COVID vaccine for under 12s
The World Health Organization on Friday recommended extending the use of a reduced dosage of Pfizer's (PFE.N) COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 5 to 11 years old. The recommendation comes after the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunisation held a meeting on Wednesday to evaluate the vaccine. It is currently recommended for use in people aged 12 years and above. The recommended dosage for the younger population is 10 micrograms instead of 30 micrograms offered to those 12 years and older. "This age group (5-11) is in the lowest priority use group for vaccination except, for children who have co-morbidities," SAGE chairman Alejandro Cravioto said at a briefing.
Maintaining Services
In Hospital Strained by Omicron, Weary Nurses Treat Too Many Patients
The fast-moving Omicron variant is straining U.S. hospitals on a scale not seen before in the two-year-old pandemic. The facilities are confronting record or near-record levels of patients while staff struggle with burnout and call in sick in large numbers due to the virus. Even hospitals in regions where the Omicron wave has begun easing say they couldn’t keep up, forcing them to make agonizing decisions about which desperate patients they can admit and which must wait, risking more severe illness. “With 1,100 new positive cases in our employees last week, you have no choice,” Ms. Schwartz said early this month while Houston Methodist Hospital was closing about 140 beds a day on average, more than one-tenth of its capacity, largely because of staffing.
Two Australian states to test school students twice weekly for COVID
Australia reported 58 deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday, as the two most populous states, New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, said students would be tested twice weekly for the Omicron variant when classes resume next week. NSW reported 34 deaths of patients with COVID-19, while Victoria state saw 14 deaths, and Queensland reported 10 deaths. Health officials said they believe an Omicron outbreak has peaked in NSW and Victoria, which reported 20,324 and 13,091 new cases respectively on Sunday
FDA expands use of remdesivir to patients with high risk of hospitalization
The U.S. health regulator on Friday expanded its approval for the use of Gilead Sciences' (GILD.O) antiviral drug remdesivir to treat non-hospitalized patients 12 years and older for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 disease with high risk of hospitalization. Previously, the use of Veklury was limited to patients requiring hospitalization.
Healthcare Innovations
As Covid-19 Pills Roll Out, Worry Mounts That Resistance Could Develop
Researchers and U.S. health regulators worry Covid-19 will figure out a way to evade important new pills, prompting efforts to look for signs of such resistance and find combinations to thwart it. The treatments—Paxlovid from Pfizer Inc. and molnupiravir from Merck & Co. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP—are the first drugs authorized by federal health regulators that people early in the course of an infection can easily take at home to avoid severe disease. Yet viruses are notorious for mutating in ways that allow them to bypass antivirals, especially when the drugs are given alone as is the case with the new Covid-19 pills. That is why treatments for other viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C consist of multiple drugs. Combinations cut the risk of resistance resulting from mutations because a virus is forced to do more to survive.
GlaxoSmithKline Racing to Provide Only Effective Covid-19 Antibody Treatment
GlaxoSmithKline PLC and partner Vir Biotechnology Inc. are straining to meet soaring demand for their Covid-19 antibody treatment after the highly mutated Omicron variant knocked out the two competing products. Demand has jumped in recent weeks for the treatment, called sotrovimab, because it is the only antibody drug authorized in the U.S. for the newly infected that has been found to work against Omicron. Glaxo and Vir, which were using one manufacturing plant, say they have raced to add another and taken other steps to roughly double the number of doses they can deliver to the U.S. in the first quarter to 600,000.
Third Dose of Pfizer, Moderna Covid-19 Vaccines Offers Strong Protection Against Omicron
Vaccines and booster shots offer superior protection from the Delta and Omicron variants, according to three new studies released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data back up earlier findings supporting booster shots and offer the first comprehensive insight into how vaccines fare against the Omicron variant. In one of the studies published Friday, a CDC analysis found that a third dose of either the vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE or Moderna Inc. was at least 90% effective against preventing hospitalization from Covid-19 during both the Delta and Omicron periods.
Mixing Sinovac With Different Boosters Increases Protection
People who had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. should get boosted with a different shot to amp up their protection against omicron, according to a study by researchers from Brazil and the University of Oxford. The research, published Friday in The Lancet, tested booster combinations on 1,240 people from Brazil above 18 years old who had been immunized with Sinovac’s shot, one of the most widely used globally, six months prior. While those who received a third Sinovac dose did experience a boost in antibodies 28 days later, the level of improvement was found to be much higher in people who were boosted with vaccines from Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca Plc, or Johnson & Johnson.
U.S. studies highlight the need for COVID boosters to fight Omicron
Three U.S. studies show that a third dose of an mRNA vaccine is key to fighting the Omicron coronavirus variant, providing 90% protection against hospitalization due to COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday. The studies, led by the CDC, are among the first in the United States to look at the impact of booster doses against the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which now accounts for 99% of all new COVID cases. Overall, they suggest that boosters helped protect against both infection and symptomatic disease